March 31, 2008

Should We Subtract Additionality?

Sean Casten presents a thought-provoking case against the use of additionality in climate policy:
Suppose I have a million bucks. Should I invest that million bucks in something that saves 1,000 tons of GHG emissions per year and saves me $500,000/year in energy costs, or should I invest it in something that saves 100 tons of GHG emissions per year and costs me $500,000/year in operating costs with no associated savings? That should not be a hard question ... yet additionality tests make it so.

Why? Because additionality is a qualitative test. Too often it ends up being boiled down to financial metrics. Good investments, by virtue of being good, are judged to fall into the "you would have done that anyway" box, while bad investments, by virtue of being unable to attract sufficient capital, are deemed worthy of public incentive. Implicit is that public funds should only be put toward shoddy investments!

That's a bit of an unfair assessment: additionality is only important to the extent that carbon offset programs are important as part of one's larger climate policy. But I think it's clear that offset programs are not going to be, and should not be, the main vehicle by which we reduce carbon emissions. They are, however, important in terms of reducing emissions in areas where normal capital investment -- whether under current financial conditions or under a carbon pricing scheme -- is not a viable option.

Take, for example, the project I'm currently involved with, which intends to evaluate the potential of using carbon offsets to finance putting out coal mine fires, which are a significant contributor to carbon emissions worldwide. (People might remember the mine fires in Centralia, Pennsylvania in the 1980s, which led to the town being abandoned eventually.) Paying to put them out is often quite expensive, particularly for underground fires -- and that's in the US. In developing countries, China and India in particular, weak enforcement of mining regulations and lack of financial resources have resulted in fires burning on a massive scale, and generating a massive amount of carbon emission. (Things are so bad in India, for example, that a repeat of the Centralia disaster is happening as we speak.)

The upshot is that carbon offset programs could be an effective way to finance abatement in developing countries, in that it covers an area that lacks sufficient capital or regulatory mechanisms, even though in developed countries coal fires are restricted to the most intractable. Focusing on these hard-to-get-to areas should be the aim of carbon offset programs going forward.

March 29, 2008

At World's End

So Y. and I went to the Mall for today's Kite Festival, and we were very excited, because we had the coolest kite ever: A pirate ship. (Specifically, it was a Pirates of the Caribbean kite.) We got lots of compliments for it, but we were only able to get it in the air once; either we needed more wind, or the kite was about as well-made as the actual Pirates of the Caribbean movies. No pictures, then, but this video should give an idea of what the experience ought to have been like:

March 24, 2008

I Need to Wake Up

With the exception of An Inconvenient Truth -- a slide show! -- most environmentally-themed entertainment has been frankly rather lousy. The AV Club has a good rundown of some of the most cringe-inducing efforts.

March 10, 2008

A Sad Day for Quakers


The affidavit says that Client 9 met with the woman in hotel room 871 but does not identify the hotel. Mr. Spitzer stayed at the Mayflower Hotel in Washington on Feb. 13, according to a source who was told of his travel arrangements. Room 871 at the Mayflower Hotel that evening was registered under the name George Fox.

The law enforcement official said that several people running the prostitution ring knew Mr. Spitzer by the name of George Fox, though a few of the prostitutes came to realize he was the governor of New York.

Mr. Fox is a friend and donor to Mr. Spitzer. Asked in a telephone interview Monday whether he accompanied Mr. Spitzer to Washington on Feb. 13 and Feb. 14, Mr. Fox responded: "Why would you think that? I did not.”

Told that the Room 871 at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel was registered in Mr. Fox’s name but with Mr. Spitzer’s Fifth Avenue address, Mr. Fox said, "That is the first I have heard of it. Until I speak to the governor further, I have no comment."

George Fox is also the name of the founder of the Religious Society of Friends.

Two New Reports on Carbon Offsets

  • The Center for American Progress argues that carbon offsets can play a constructive role in covering areas not covered by a cap-and-trade system à la Lieberman-Warner.
  • The World Wildlife Fund, however, has a less positive take, saying there are still huge gaps in the monitoring of standards and large potential for unintended consequences in developing countries, where many of the offset projects take place.

The Star Wars Theme, Reinterpreted

March 9, 2008


If you're like me, a MacBook user who vastly prefers Firefox to Safari, you've been in a bind for a while: There's been no way to read PDFs in-browser without downloading them first, which is a bit of a hassle. Now the guys who brought you BugMeNot have the solution: PDFMeNot, which lets you, among other things, embed PDFs into web pages. But it's the Firefox extension which is really helpful: it sends every PDF link to their website, making is possible once more to read PDFs in-browser. Not the greatest discovery in the world, but the company behind both sites deserves praise.

Ideas to Be Hashed Out

So my energy policy class requires a research project, and I'm casting about for a worthwhile topic. Some ideas:
  • The effectiveness of renewable portfolio standards;
  • The relationship between liberalized electricity markets and things like renewable energy use and energy efficiency;
  • Barriers to moving to a distributed generation system of electricity;
  • Which states are the most energy efficient and why.
Basically, I want to do something with a heavy statistical analysis component; I'm teaching myself how to use R, a really awesome statistics program, and this project would a great opportunity to make use of it. I suppose my motivations are a little out of whack.

Kneecapping Your Way to the Nomination

The Barack Obama campaign took its lumps last week, losing the Ohio and Texas primaries (though not the Texas caucus), and then having foreign policy advisor Samantha Power fall on her sword after the "Hillary Clinton is a monster" remark. I still think, however, that the fundamentals of the primary campaign favor Obama, for reasons that Jonathan Chait makes clear:
Clinton's path to the nomination, then, involves the following steps: kneecap an eloquent, inspiring, reform-minded young leader who happens to be the first serious African American presidential candidate (meanwhile cementing her own reputation for Nixonian ruthlessness) and then win a contested convention by persuading party elites to override the results at the polls. The plan may also involve trying to seat the Michigan and Florida delegations, after having explicitly agreed that the results would not count toward delegate totals. Oh, and her campaign has periodically hinted that some of Obama's elected delegates might break off and support her. I don't think she'd be in a position to defeat Hitler's dog in November, let alone a popular war hero.